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Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Confederacy

Witness Post: Massasoit

There is a small cul-de-sac in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco named Massasoit. The name is rich in the American tradition, often lost to time and place.  What the street name is doing in San Francisco is a mystery: it either comes from a family with New England connections or a fondness for Native American history.

The word Massasoit was the title given to the Chief of the Wampanoag Confederacy of Native Indians of America. They were one of the dominant Indian tribes in what is now Massachusetts. Chief Massasoit was the leader who saved the first Pilgrims from certain starvation, after they landed on the coast of the new continent in 1620.  The Pilgrims had sailed to the territory to avoid the religious persecution from England. The Chief taught the Pilgrims where and how to grow crops during the earliest years of the colony’s founding. Fifteen years later the Chief helped forge an alliance with other Indian tribes, which protected the Pilgrims during the violent Pequot Indian Wars.

Massasoit developed relationships with the early immigrants, many of whom history buffs will remember from their grade school colonial history lessons: Miles Standish, John Carver, William Bradford, Stephen Hopkins, Edward Winslow, among others.

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Chief Massasoit offers pipe to Governor John Carver

The story of Thanksgiving, the typical fare for elementary school plays, has been depicted from the images of the Pilgrims eating a harvest meal with the gentle natives. The Indians depicted in these plays are the Wampanoag Indians.  Chief Massasoit is always a featured guest of the Pilgrims, though the real story may be the other way around. The Wampanoag killed several deer, which they cooked and brought to the meal.

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Massasoit Sachem

The word Massasoit means ‘Great Leader of Sachem’ and is sometimes used to refer to a collection of Native Americans. In the history of the colonies, however, the term is more often used to refer to one man, whose Indian name was Ousamequin.

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The Massasoit Manufacturing Co.

The connection to the Hooper Family, though tenuous, comes through a business relationship that flourished in the early 1960’s.  In that era many of the “Northern Mills” in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island were closing, as the cotton textile industry became extraordinarily competitive internationally. The companies were particularly vulnerable if their natural resources, labor costs and customers were inconsistent. Almost all of the companies whose raw materials (such cotton) were grown hundreds of miles away from the textile mills. The electricity to run the mills was generated along rivers which were their unique advantage for a time. Eventually the mills employed highly skilled labor. The costs of transportation, raw materials and labor were high and threatened the longevity of the mills.

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The geographic advantages of river-produced energy quickly shrank and even well-run companies fell on hard times.  Many of the rivers in New England, once powerhouses of production in various industries, were blunted by the availability of cheaper labor, lower crop prices, and cheaper transportation from companies in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Asia.

massasoit-and-warriorsThe Hooper Company had bought a company, called American Textile Products, from Cincinnati, Ohio, which made industrial textiles that catered to the sanitation industry and competed with the likes of Rubbermaid, Fuller Brush, and others for its fair share of business in a tough market.  As a “tuck-under purchase” the Hooper Company also acquired Masco Products, which were produced by Massasoit Manufacturing Company, based in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Massasoit Chief  - Rare Indian Cigar Label

The Masco Textile Products were marketed under the American Textile Product name as some of its industrial cotton textiles in its business line.  The products held niche positions in the marine and industrial supply businesses, going to owners of wood vessels in need of annual repair. One product was a caulking cotton which helped sure up the hull of the wooden boats. With the advent of fiberglass and aluminum hulls these products were the “buggy whips” in an evolving market, nevertheless they were not easily replaced with more modern solutions. The Masco products had a relatively long life among die-hard boat owners, lasting until the end of the 1990’s when the Hooper Mills were sold to Ken Mumaw and his son. The Mumaw family marketed the Masco products under the Hooper Textile name out of Baltimore.

The final resting place of the Massasoit Manufacturing Company products is unknown, but there is hope that it’s peace is noteworthy and honorable, along with Ousamequin, the great leader and the original namesake.

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Bronze of Chief Massasoit in Massachusetts

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